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Letter to the Editor Supports Union Efforts

March 5, 2008

To the editor:

I’d like to respond to recent letters that staff have received from President Huddleston, Vice-President Cannon and others relating to current UNH staff efforts underway to form an AFSCME union on campus.

The three points that I would like to make today relate to the notion of “others”, to the idea of unions in general and confrontational relationships in particular, and to a story about AFSCME and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Because my thoughts are grounded in deep and strongly held beliefs, I’m not sure how to do this without also speaking about some of my own personal experiences.

First, there is some sense that “outsiders” are responsible for the current organizing activities. There are AFSCME organizers on campus, but they would long ago have packed up their bags and gone home if they had found no interest on campus.

I have a strong connection to this university and to the faculty, staff, students and administration who make UNH what it is. I have served on presidential commissions, chaired presidential task forces and consider myself a good and contributing member of the UNH community who has been here for over 25 years. Many of the other staff I meet at AFSCME information sessions have been on campus, 10, 15, 20 years and more. We are not outsiders, we are not “others”, we are not “they”--we are us.

Next, to the notion of unions: Life is a series of negotiated transactions. Like everything else in life, the quality of the negotiation depends upon many things, not the least of which is the trust and good will of all parties.

Many years ago, I had a career teaching 2nd and 3rd grade in the Oyster River School District. During most of my years there, I was either president of the Oyster River Teachers Guild, chief negotiator, or a member of the negotiating team, negotiating contracts under the same state and federal protections that a UNH AFSCME local would enjoy.

There were some hard moments over the years but my relationship with the OR school board and with the superintendent and staff of SAU 56 were mutually respectful. I had and have great admiration and respect for the school board members we negotiated with – they loved the children just as much as the teachers and we knew that about one another.

My final year at OR saw both parties in mediation and impasse but ended with a successfully negotiated contract. The son of the chair of the school board was in my 3rd grade class. Think about that for a moment and understand that it reflects the quality of the relationship between the school board and its teachers union. Both sides were responsible for the environment that allowed that 8-year old boy to be totally and completely oblivious to the fact that his father and his teacher were negotiating a labor contract.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for the UNH administration. They have a tough job to do with many issues to distract them. Do they want a union? Of course not. If you could call your oil dealer and tell them what price you wanted to pay for fuel oil, wouldn’t you choose that? A union establishes a legally protected right for the staff to negotiate their salaries, benefits and other working conditions with the administration. So, the administration can’t just decide on their own how much they want to pay staff, or how to manage health care benefits. We both sit down at the table to negotiate a contract.

Are there dues? Yes, there are dues. UNH pays dues to be a member of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), UNH pays dues to be a member of the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR). Dues are what you pay to an association of like-minded members in order to achieve common goals of value to the membership. (As an aside, AFSCME does not collect dues until the first successfully negotiated contract).

And now to a story about AFSCME and Martin Luther King, Jr: AFSCME is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. AFSCME members are our firefighters, police officers, city and state employees. They protect our homes and keep our communities clean and they safe. They are in Dover, Rochester, Manchester, Derry, Bedford, Somersworth, Portsmouth, Wolfeboro and many, many other NH communities. They staff institutions of higher education like UNH.

An AFSCME local has been representing the employees of the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) since 1963. There are AFSCME locals at the other UMASS campuses, at Harvard University, at the University of Rhode Island, the University of Connecticut, Penn State, UPenn, Temple, the SUNY campuses, Princeton, Rutgers (the state university of NJ) and on and on and on.

The UNH community recently celebrated the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. While we all remember King’s inspiring life and untimely death, we might not all remember what brought him to Memphis that fateful day. MLK was in Tennessee organizing a nonviolent march in support of the sanitation workers of Memphis, many of whom qualified for welfare. The union that represented these workers was AFSCME. The very last hours of MLK Jr’s life were spent in support of an AFSCME local.

I encourage all staff to attend an AFSCME informational session, to speak to me or other UNH staff interested in forming a union and to make a decision regarding whether or not you want a local AFSCME union, led by UNH staff, to help you negotiate salaries, benefits and working conditions, within a legally protected process. It’s just good business.

Suzanne Huard
Office of Sponsored Research

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